Confessional segregation and discrimination in property right is anti-constitutional

Fri, 11/01/2013

Lebanon has witnessed during the past two years a worrying increase in calls for protecting the rights of confessions (rather than individuals), the last of which was the creation of the “land movement”, a new group which, according to its by-laws published in the official gazette (date: 20-6-2013- No 27- proclamation No 1080), seeks to oppose and halt the selling of land in Christian areas.
The by-laws of this organisation state that its prime objective is to “contribute to challenging demographic changes in Lebanon” and “work to prevent the selling of Christian land through awareness raising and conferences”. Its fourth objective emphasises “defending the existence of Christians in their own lands”.
It is our firm belief that the mere aim of “preventing the sale of land in Christian areas” is in itself a violation of the spirit of the Constitution and of the Law, a matter which we will detail further in this editorial.
The “Land movement” justifies its existence as a response to the increase in sale of land in Christian areas to non Christians especially in areas such as Akkar, Batroon, Kesrwan, Metn, Baabda, Aley, Shoof, Jezzine, Hasbaya, Merj3yoon, Nabatieh, Zahrani, and the Beqaa. This issue is also intimately linked with sharp tensions on land ownership prevailing in Al Qaa3 (Beqaa) and involving people from 3rsaal, an area adjacent to it, and among communities of the area of Lassa.
Such sales of land to Sunnis, Shiites, Palestinians and Gulf nationals, have been described by some hardliners as the “crime of selling Christians’ land”, while incidentally nobody ever protested the selling of land to foreigners who were non-Moslems. Opponents of these transactions have referred to various studies which showed that the overall surface area sold by Christians to Moslems, either Lebanese or Arabs, has reached (from January 2007 until April 2012) some 33 million square meters, in addition to 108 million square meters claimed to have been seized in one way or the other, thus a total of 141 square kilometres equivalent to a mere 1.34% of the total surface area of Lebanon.
It is of course of no coincidence that such issue is brought at this point in time from such a narrow confessional perspective. It is our belief that this matter is not an isolated phenomenon and cannot be dissociated from various other growing confessional-based political manifestations that have now come to take the centre national stage along with other similar questionable initiatives such as the “orthodox electoral law”, where every Lebanese is obliged to vote for a candidate from his/her own confessional group. Similar confessionally motivated criticism have also been directed towards recruitment in the public sector notably within the Ministries of Agriculture, Education and Public Health which are having to resort to “ad hoc” recruitment” of contractual employees to fill some urgent posts.
The growing confessional divisions at the community level are but an indicator of the sharp political split which is nurtured and strengthened by the dominant political and religious forces. From this perspective, the setting up of the “land movement” can be considered as in flagrant violation of the spirit of the Constitution which, while reiterating the fundamentals of common living, clearly upholds the rights of individuals in land ownership.
In fact, the preamble of the Constitution notes that “Lebanon is a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued on 20-12-1948. The Government shall embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.” And that “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination”.
In addition, clause 11 states that “Rights of ownership shall be protected by law. No one's property may be expropriated except for reasons of public utility”, the clause noted as well that “Lebanese territory is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese shall have the right to live in any part thereof and to enjoy the rule of law wherever he resides. There shall be no segregation of the people on the basis of any type of belonging, and no fragmentation” partition, or settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon.
To be noted that the violation of the rights of citizens and the undermining of the principle of equality between all of them, under the pretence of defending the rights of confessions, is not limited to property issues but also hit other aspects of civil rights namely women’s fundamental right to full nationality, a right which is being denied to women under the guise of protecting confessional conviviality and of safeguarding the so called demographic confessional balance in Lebanon.
While it may be true that the present general turmoil in Lebanon and in the region can explain the growing concerns over the rights of citizens across social, economic and community affiliations, however, ad-hoc and narrow-minded political compromises and solutions cannot be the answer to these concerns particularly since they can only serve confessional interests at the expenses of the rights of individual citizens.
What Lebanon needs at this moment, and more than ever, is a pan-national discourse and practice that transcend confessional boundaries, and the emergence of effective civil political actors who stand up for a state based on citizenship, protection of individual rights and ensuring social justice. Such a movement will come about only if transformatory social actors strongly challenge and oppose current calls for reinforcing the rights of confessions at the expense of the rights of individuals and are willing to work together towards an alternative national and civil political platform.